Six Jewish extremists arrested in killing of Jerusalem teen

Six Jewish extremists arrested in killing of Jerusalem teen

Suspects, from Beit Shemesh, Jerusalem and Adam, belong to extremist cell, police say; Muhammed Abu Khdeir’s mother calls for demolishing their homes

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Relatives and friends of Muhammed Abu Khdeir, 16, carry his body to the mosque during his funeral in Shuafat in East Jerusalem on July 4, 2014 (Photo credit: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
Relatives and friends of Muhammed Abu Khdeir, 16, carry his body to the mosque during his funeral in Shuafat in East Jerusalem on July 4, 2014 (Photo credit: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Six people were arrested Sunday in connection with the murder of 16-year-old Muhammed Abu Khdeir, whose burned body was found in the Jerusalem forest on Wednesday morning, officials said Sunday.

The suspects are members of a Jewish extremist cell, the Shin Bet security agency said.

Officials suspect the killing was most likely carried out by Jewish extremists in revenge for the killing of three Israeli teenagers earlier in June.

A number of minors were among those held.

The suspects are from Beit Shemesh, Jerusalem and the settlement of Adam, police said.

“Apparently the people arrested in relation to the case belong to an extremist Jewish group,” an unnamed official was quoted by AFP as saying.

An official speaking on the condition of anonymity told the Associated Press that authorities believe the killing was “nationalistic” in nature.

According to Channel 2, days before the kidnapping and murder, three of the suspects had scouted out the area in East Jerusalem and attempted unsuccessfully to kidnap an Arab child, later named as 9-year-old Musa Zalum.

A gag order on some details was still in place as on Sunday evening. A press conference on the arrests scheduled for 5 p.m. was canceled at the last moment.

Video images showing the faces of two of the suspected kidnappers and murderers of Abu Khdeir were uploaded to YouTube earlier Sunday.

The footage came from a security camera that had been stationed on a building owned by Abu Khdeir’s father, Hussein, and was recorded on a mobile phone during a police investigation.

In the video, two young men are seen conversing with a third person, presumably Abu Khdeir, who is not visible in the frame. According to police, Abu Khdeir was forced into a vehicle moments later. After the kidnapping, several bystanders who witnessed the incident tried to chase the car before returning to Shuafat to notify Abu Khdeir’s parents. At 4:05 a.m, Abu Khdeir’s father called police. The teenager’s body was located within an hour, after his cellphone was tracked by police.

Palestinians alleged that Abu Khdeir was killed by Jewish extremists to avenge the killings of the three Israeli teenagers, who were abducted in the West Bank on June 12. Their bodies were found last week, and Abu Khdeir was killed just hours after their funeral.

Police initially said they were investigating various avenues in the teen’s death, including criminal or personal motives, while Israeli social media abounded with rumors that he had been killed because he was gay or as part of an ongoing family feud.

On Saturday, the Palestinian Authority attorney-general, Dr. Muhammed Abed al-Ghani al-Aweiwi, said that Abu Khdeir was burned alive, according to the preliminary findings of the autopsy.

16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian teenager whose body was found Wednesday, July 2 in Jerusalem's forest area (photo credit: AFP via family handout)
16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian teenager whose body was found Wednesday, July 2 in Jerusalem’s forest area (photo credit: AFP via family handout)

Aweiwi told Palestinian news agency Ma’an that Abu Khdeir had sustained severe burns across 90 percent of his body, including his head, where he was also beaten.

He said flammable material was found in Abu Khdeir’s lungs and breathing passages, indicating he was still alive when he was set on fire. Aweiwi added that additional lab tests were needed and that the final autopsy report would be issued only after those tests were completed.

Palestinian pathologist Dr. Saber al-Alul took part in the autopsy carried out at the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute in Tel Aviv on Thursday.

In East Jerusalem, Abu Khdeir’s mother, Suha, welcomed news of the arrests but said she had little faith in the Israeli justice system.

“I don’t have any peace in my heart. Even if they captured who they say killed my son,” she said. “They’re only going to ask them questions and then release them. What’s the point?”

“They need to treat them the way they treat us. They need to demolish their homes and round them up, the way they do to our children,” she added.

Abu Khdeir’s killing sparked widespread violent protests throughout East Jerusalem and in other parts of Israel.

On Thursday, the parents of 15-year-old Tariq Abu Khdeir, Mohammed Abu Khdeir’s cousin, charged that their son had been beaten by Israeli police. The 15-year-old, who is a US citizen, was arrested in Shuafat during clashes between stone-throwers and Israeli riot police.

AP and AFP contributed to this report.

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